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'Wizard of Oz' celebrates 70 years — and countless bad 'Over the Rainbow' covers

This year marks the 70th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, and as you can guess, my pretties, all manner of deluxe DVD foofaraw is being loosed in the aisles of Best Buy, etc. The good folks at Rhino Records are also re-releasing a two-disc deluxe edition of the soundtrack, complete with rare outtakes and demos. Oz still makes for rousing listening. Herbert Stothart's score is frenetic and fun — that is, when it's not subtly nightmarish, a precursor to everything modern composer Danny Elfman has done, be it Batman or Desperate Housewives. And the songs, by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, are nothing less than ingrained in our DNA, from If I Only Had a Brain to The Lollipop Guild.

And then, of course, there's Over the Rainbow.

Judy Garland, aka fresh-faced Frances Gumm, was only 16 when she played Kansas farm girl Dorothy Gale. According to the liner notes in the Rhino box set, Garland's two-minute, 44-second iconic version of Over the Rainbow was actually cobbled together from three separate takes. Who says editors ruin everything?

Since then, Over the Rainbow — voted the No. 1 "Song of the Century" by the Recording Industry Association of America — has been covered by thousands of artists, from Barbra Streisand to Eric Clapton to the Smashing Pumpkins. There are myriad sublime versions: Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo'ole recorded a hugely popular rendition on ukulele; you should also search out a YouTube duet by Brit songstress Katie Melua and the late Eva Cassidy. Arlen and Harburg's song construction is so perfect, it's pretty hard to mess up Over the Rainbow. But, alas, more than a few people have done Dorothy wrong — really wrong . . .

5 Worst Covers of Over the Rainbow

Jerry Lee Lewis (1980)

"There's a land ol' Jerry's dreamed of." Yikes! Not sure what the Killer was doing on this one, but I can't help thinking about that honeymoon with his 13-year-old cousin bride.

Sam Harris (1984)

This mulleted Corey Hart look-alike was the octave-leaping prince of the inaugural season of Star Search, Ed McMahon's scourge upon pop culture. This version is so ridiculous, so over the top — but still so strangely popular — I'm guessing Harris made a deal with Beelzebub.

Mandy Patinkin (1989)

It's far too easy teasing the 'Tinker, but between his falsetto and all that incessant pleading for lemon drops, the multitalented star makes Tiny Tim look like Rambo.

Carly Simon (2007)

Remember 1962 horror flick Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? And how Bette Davis, gussied up like the granny from hell, did that chilling little-girl ice cream dance at the end? As Joan Crawford lay dying on the beach? Well, that was all somehow less creepy than Carly Simon's Dorothy impression.

Jason Castro (2008)

Bring on the hate mail! The blinky American Idol star (you know, the dude with the dreads and the moon face) tried to do the bonfire ukulele treatment — but wound up sounding like he was giving himself a groin injury. Somewhere over the ICU is more like it.

Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson

Album: Break Up (ATCO)

In stores: Now

Just duet: The past few years have seen a resurgence in the art of the duet, brought upon by the May-December magic of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on 2007's Grammy-gobbling Raising Sand. (She & Him, a pairing of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, is also darn good.) This latest coupling — busker Yorn and curvaceous actor Johansson — plays like an indie version of Sand, as the players follow the arc of young love gone awry. Yorn has a cool, sensitive-dude vocal while pillow-lipped Johansson puts on a sepia-toned affectation similar to an Old Hollywood starlet. It probably shouldn't work this well, but the raggy piano, bluesy licks and smart back-and-forth make for a hot stew. Yorn, who wrote all but one of the nine tracks, makes sure the music has attitude, aggression and sex appeal — it's not mopey, that's for sure. In fact, in some places, their bad love flat-out cooks.

Reminds us of: I wish all breakups were this fun.

Download these: Relator and I Don't Know What to Do

Grade: A-


The Halloween Playlist: Part II

So I had this killer idea for a family Halloween costume. We'd go as the Parkers from A Christmas Story. I'd be the Old Man (cardigan, leg lamp), the Forever Fiancee would be the mom (pink robe, 1940s 'do). We'd slick back Kid Lulu's hair and pop specs on her for Ralphie. And Mai-Mai, our 19-month-old, could either be Randy or the turkey snatched by the Bumpus dogs. Never mind that it'll be 97 degrees on All Hallows' Eve. This was genius! "But I want to be Tinkerbell!" cried Lu. The FF rolled her eyes at me. But Mai-Mai was up for anything — mainly because I had cookies. Last year, I went as the Hulk, which meant 10 tubes of body paint plus an incredible rash. So this year, I can go as Bruce Banner

. . . and Mai-Mai will be Hulk! Get it? I turn into her. More genius! Oh, don't worry: She's used to rashes. While I fine-tune this awesome idea, enjoy the Halloween Playlist, Nos. 30-21.

30 Enter Sandman,


29 Highway to Hell, AC/DC

28 Devil Inside,


27 Runnin' With the Devil, Van Halen

26 Candyman,

Christina Aguilera

25 The Headless Horseman, Bing Crosby

24 The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead, XTC

23 Zombie Zoo,

Tom Petty

22 Trick or Treat,

Otis Redding

21 Don't Fear the Reaper, Blue Oyster Cult

'Wizard of Oz' celebrates 70 years — and countless bad 'Over the Rainbow' covers 10/10/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 10, 2009 4:30am]
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